Saturday, September 26, 2020

Scenario: The Surrender of Lischon

 This is a scenario for up to ten first-level characters, set at the end of a war in the ancient history of Mesomergos. It is meant to be played with Vain the Sword, but any other dungeon game will do.

Players build their characters as normal, but take on the role of one of ten central figures during the surrender of the city of Lischon by the Duke Shan to invading forces. Over the course of the scenario, PCs will cause problems for each other as they wrestle to decide under what circumstance death is preferable to surrender. Each character starts with some kind of asset, whether it is additional items, magic, or even small dungeons that they can hole up in.

The titular surrender is underway when the scenario begins, and though it is almost impossible to turn the war around, that option is technically available, though sections with titles like "Crushing Resistance" and "Attempts to Flee the City" imply the difficulty in trying. What's more, as the invading forces encounter more resistance and inconvenience, their ire increases.

Click for link
"The Surrender of Lischon" is 13 pages, with one title page listing the cast of potential PCs, two quickly summarizing play for a DM, and ten one-page character prompts, including three dungeon maps by Dyson Logos, used under a commercial license.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Scenario: The Child You Have Got With Me

(CW: the sorts of things they write ballads about)

 Many tales of myth and folklore are premised on victimization. This structure can be difficult to adapt to roleplaying games because players dislike being forced to “lose” and because the way that folkloric characters respond to victimization is outside most people’s frame of reference.

One of the most pervasive themes of the Child Ballads is sexual violence, a typical depiction can be found in “Gil Brenton.” Our heroine has a romantic encounter with the titular character, in a passage where consensuality can only be inferred. She then demands from him gifts, a common motif that we as moderns may not be familiar with. The hope is that with a token you could prove an encounter had happened and legitimize it with marriage. 

Interrogating these tropes of the past is a worthy endeavor of the present, from both an artistic and gaming perspective. How we do so should be deliberate, and requires the collaboration of everyone at the table.

The Child You Have Got With Me

art by Wylielise

Premise: You are a pregnant, wronged woman seeking justice— not in the form of violent reprisal, but in getting the security that the man who wronged you took away. Sometimes this will look like getting him to marry you. Other paths to justice will usually have other sacrifices. You can kill him and take his gold, and that may be enough to get by, but you will not be welcome in your home.

Victory is getting justice for yourself and/or your child.

Stalemate is punishing either the man who wronged you or the world that created this toxic dynamic.

Failure is for neither you nor your child to be safe, regardless of whether you survive.

It is up to you to decide whether you want to actually be a mother, but there are both physical and social dangers to doing otherwise.

To generate a scenario for The Child You Have Got With Me:

  • Assign roles: one DM (ballaDMaster), one Wronged Woman, the rest her Sympathetic Accomplices.
  • Here is where everyone agrees on how frankly to portray the cruelties of the world.
  • The Wronged Woman rolls or chooses the Man Who Wronged You
  • A Sympathetic Accomplice rolls or choose a Hope. (If there are no Accomplices, the DM rolls.)
  • Each Sympathetic Accomplice rolls or chooses a Sympathy
  • The players make their characters
  • The DM rolls two Complications.
  • Finally, the DM sets the scene and the quest begins.

d6 The Man Who Wronged You

  1. A wild shade, reckless and dangerous. Knows a trial of dedication that can turn him into a good man
  2. The faceblind king of the land, paranoid of adultery
  3. A mercenary rake, without moral qualms
  4. The merchant or baron who holds your family’s land in fee
  5. A monstrous creature who lives in a place it was forbidden for you to visit
  6. Your own brother, returned from over a decade at sea

d6 Hopes

  1. The ghosts of your tormentor’s former lovers or inconvenient infants
  2. The poison rose tree, which can safely end a pregnancy
  3. A supernatural figure who will act as godparent. Their aid is freely given, but would change both you and the child
  4. The sympathetic mother of the man who wronged you
  5. There is a piece of lore to command the man who wronged you— his name, or an item he prizes above all
  6. A witch who lives in a remote location, and has taken a vow of vengeance against the world

d6 Complications

  1. You have nowhere to stay and winter is creeping in.
  2. Your seven brothers, eager to help, (if reckless), have been locked away
  3. You have been cursed to obey all commands
  4. Someone who should have been on your side is set against you
  5. The man who wronged you is set to marry another
  6. An odious guardian is set to restrict your actions

Generating a Wronged Woman:

First, create a character as normal. In addition to starting equipment, you possess a token from the man who wronged you. If you would start with any money, it is lost. Finally, two of your inventory slots are taken up with the nascent child. Every week, this increases by one until nine slots are full (possibly over-encumbering you). 

  • After the third slot is filled, your pregnancy is obvious at a glance. Most intelligent foes will do their best to avoid seriously hurting you.
  • After the fourth slot is filled, you cannot safely wear armor, except for cloth and fabric armor.
  • After the sixth slot is filled, you cannot safely travel by foot. Distances of less than a kilometer at a time are okay, as is hitching a ride on a cart.
  • After the eighth slot is filled, the DM (ballaDMaster) secretly gives a 50% each week that the child will be born on the most inconvenient possible day of that week.

Other players generate character as normal, likewise losing any money. Then, they roll or choose a sympathy, a reason to join in your quest from the table below. Introduce these characters one at a time in descending order, as the Wronged Woman tells each of her plight. 

d6 Sympathies

  1. You are the Wronged Woman’s loving sister. You fear your own marriage prospects should things go poorly.
  2. You are the Wronged Woman’s absentee father or uncle. You fear the scorn of the world.
  3. You are the Wronged Woman’s childhood friend. You hate the man who wronged her with overriding passion.
  4. You are but a humble peasant, but you know wrong from right. Despite this, you are easily cowed by anyone of higher station.
  5. You are an errant wanderer. You have sworn to obey all women, but otherwise regard these events with detached chauvinism.
  6. You are the Wronged Woman of yesteryear, dealt cruelties you cannot bear to see done to someone else. Start with a token from the man who wronged you.

Auto-generate a scenario:

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Kumi's Anthologies: Cursed House of the Twin Axes

 [I was planning to write the first session report for a new short-run weekly game playtesting a dungeon set in Mesomergos, but one of my players, a true historian, took the liberty of taking the most extensive session notes I've ever seen. I present it here, with slight edits, in the belief that it will provide a better view of the game from the players' view.]

[images by my players]

The Ancient Labyrinth

...Fed by the carcass the people worshipped in the mountains. Pigudix the founder of our land, embodied in the emperor, sat as ruler of the world. His rival Aurochs works, gnawing his way out of the bellies of those who ate him first. The sins of the parents have been passed onto their children. The world and balance between gods, mortals, and spirits strive toward balance and order out of chaos and chaos out of order. May the spirits of song and story aid me in telling this the newest chapter in the history of the Double Axe Palace, the Celestial's Home, Asterion’s Bane, and the Labyrinth of Fear.

The Party: 

Xiaodi (RenegadeTLA on the discord): from the west. Tall and lanky looks like she is not from here but has the name and speaks well. Is a practitioner of the gigre of circumlocution. Super ambitious, wants power and prestige. [Note: incapable of telling the truth about herself]

Sid (Lotus on the discord): orbseeker, about 40 curly but greying hair and some scraggle. Somewhat squirrelly, perhaps high strung and ferociously curious

The Arm of Kang: The financiers of the party. [a band sent by the oathkeeper who funded their expedition]

Zexian (Oblidisiderptch): a practitioner, flagellator. Can do things like transmute items, non-suspicious of everyone. A golem. Weird half cracked mask. [Veteran of a previous game]

Arnulf: an old man from the city we are sent from. Well past prime, a warrior, part of the fighting men. Pushed to  assignment not necessarily by choice, possibly a forced retirement. Late 50s balding with good sideburns. Generally an orderly.  

Continuation of Double Axe Palace History

        An ancient imperial decree to retake an ancient palace in the mountains of Mesomergos, convinced Oathkeeper Kang, lord of a prominent city, to finance this party’s expedition. The long-destroyed gallery roads approaching the Double Axe Palace having been reconstructed made the initial trek reasonably easy, and the party set out to make it inhabitable, seeking treasure and title to the land

The ancient star-worshipping people claimed the site was cursed, and constructed the original palace to appease their zodiac sign of Fear. In these days the palace was known as the Celestial’s Home or more commonly the Labyrinth of Fear. In time, the emperor of Mesomergos appointed a noble, Duke Asterion, to suppress star-worship in the mountains. His rule was characterized by cruelty and greed as he set to forging a statue of pure iron in his own likeness; additionally the frescos lining the walls capture the likeness of Asterion and his eventual downfall.This fall came when his servants revolted, killing him and his retainers, and burning the gallery road leading to the site. In recent years, that gallery road has finally been rebuilt and the troupe of adventurers set up camp in preparation for a final summit.

On the Journey

  • Xiaodi thought she saw a pale woman with an ornate two-headed axe, walking along the mountain above her.
  • Sid found a copper flask, hot in the midday sun. When he poured it out, the water seemed to sizzle and foam.
  • The Arm of Kang swear they saw a star in the constellation of Fear pulsing in the night sky.
  • Zexian dreamt (?) They saw a pale woman with an ornate two-headed axe, walking along the empty air beside the gallery road.
  • Arnulf pointed, and you all saw a star in the constellation of Fear burned black in the light of day.
  • When we set down to camp, Kumiho saw a outcrop of conical rocks. When we awoke, they were gone. 

Lotus has suggested a methodical approach so as to make our search thorough. The old man, Arnulf, heaved a grappling hook up and created an entrance for all to pass. Xiaodi encountered some gnomes [having caught on one with the grappling hook] and one fell when Arnulf pulled on the rope. The gnome fell into Zexian’s arms and the two began to bargain for passage into the palace. This reminds me of an old children’s tale involving gnomes

Careful one must be when making deals with gnomes or goblins and similar gremlins. Forget their names, forget your promises, or break the rules, and their tiny spears are sure to fly. Remember the story of Faang who asked a gnome to steal his friend’s book but forgot to stipulate his desire to own it. The gnome took off with the tome leaving Faang without his prize and both lads reeling without their treasured knowledge.  

A brief fight broke out, a gnome was drop kicked, as the rest of the party clambered over the wall, past the weathered stone and shrub. A deal was struck between Zexian and the fallen gnome bringing the fight to an end as quickly as it had begun. Dashing into the palace the party gathered with their brokered ally. Zexian decided to follow the gnome in spite of Xiaodi’s protests, he presented a case and all seemed agreed the party should split to better understand the lay of this land. A loaf of bread split many times feeds many a little while a loaf split in two feeds a few much more. 

[In a hallway of the palace, the party inspected frescos and noted] horoscopes for each of the birth signs for immediate future and for the rest of the year... On examination the frescos revealed a history of the past 200 years in this place. [The palace has been abandoned for at least a century]   


At this same time Zexian was attempting to strike more deals with the gnome to further establish our claim over this land and the palace itself. A feast they discussed roast beef, and potatoes with some lovely asparagus.  The meeting planned Zexian allowed the gnome to give a location and it was decided the theatre to the north east would be best. With a warning to not drink the water [!] this gnome trotted off toward his kin as Zexian returned to his own. 

As the group made its way to the theatre through the courtyard a series of strange vegetables overgrow the area, but more concerning flickers passed through the windows... It is more than likely this place has seen much violence and death, and one would be wise to honor the spirits of the fallen. As Zexian took to marking our way an unknown figure shambled their way past. Arnulf called out and we were met with a woman who promptly bounded up to the group. “Right away!” was all she could seem to say. [This haunted creature is one of many such inhabitants of the palace, with animal-like minds but human habits]

At this moment our attempts to communicate with the woman were interrupted by a young man falling from the second story. Some of the party took concern and went to talk to the man but his terror overcame him and he panicked backing up fast screaming “Right Away!” Her eyes like an eclipse with a thin and bright iris. A man identical to he who fell screamed from the second story heights “I told you not to go in there!” as the woman frantically responded "Right Away" to the mention of Lord Asterion’s name. Zexian, intrigued by this woman’s odd nature, is interested in taking the broom, the merits of which were promptly discussed among the party.

Without other recourse some of the party began to take spirits in order to ascertain any divine influence in these creatures ["as soon as he does that, does anyone want to start doing drugs?"].

    As the party prepares to move on, they have failed to adequately heed the signs of the past, with strong fear overhead the push forward toward the theatre in preparation for their meeting [dinner-date] with the gnomes. Xiaodi [dosing her absinthe to get a sense of anything arcane going on] is led away by her companion and commandeers Zexian’s wine for good measure.

[Zexian confers with the stone stairs in their own language, learning] of a few servants traversing  the meaning halls and winding cases and of the soldier who acts as their master. From an alcove at the top of the stairs a pair can be heard mumbling through the dim light. The frescos in these halls depict mercantile scenes and one character is peddling an orb of solid gold and while it continues a ways down the hall is replaced by other stories. In the hall of red light two servants appear from the dim; one better dressed than the other. They discuss all in nonsense, though, on our approach, stand and present as if waiting for someone to speak. Moving on quickly from these servants who seem stricken with the same fear as the others the party came across an intelligent rat. After a less than formal introduction the rat was questioned on its knowledge of the palace happenings and the palace structure. Sid took a lead in questioning the rat after Xaodi decidedly would not put the poor fellow down.  

[After the rat spent some time yelling and sulking, they decided to help it reclaim its previous, allegedly much nicer alcove.] The rat led the party down the hall to a pair of rats [copulating] and Xiaodi quickly dispatched the rats using a nearby rock. [The party claimed 1d4 soiled coins, their first treasure.] Warned again of the signs of fear, the cruelty and greed of Asterion, and the rights of ownership both for the celestials and gnomes the group pressed on plundering and murdering. 

Those with no respect to history will be doomed to see it repeat in their own lives and actions. 

Closer inspection of the mirror in the center of the room revealed 12 defaced symbols around the frame. Zexian and Sid begin to polish what they now know is an arcane mirror and the defaced symbols appear to be the zodiac. 


            [This ended up a madcap session, with a one-round combat following the accidental kidnapping of a gnome, the interactions with uncomprehending guards, the always-amusing realization that two party members both speak the language of stone, and the indulgence of an annoyed rat's worst impulses.]

            [The party has made first contact with the gnomes who inhabit part of the palace, and have gotten a gnome to promise to help them forge a peace. They have observed strange behavior by these ancient servants, and do not understand why they act in this way, save that they suspect it has to do with the Zodiac Fear. They have not yet found an orb.]

Monday, September 21, 2020

Dungeons of Ynn

 Previously, I expressed my admiration for Emmy Allen's Gardens of Ynn depthcrawl, but wished for a way to play a more goal-oriented game with the tools the book provides. To that end, I've created a little dungeon generator, referencing material from the tables, details, and bestiary of Ynn, as well as Courtney Campbell's rooms resource

The dungeons all generate a d6 random encounter table, as well as exactly ten rooms. You can generate additional rooms at your leisure. There is no set level for the dungeon, so be sure to present the most powerful monsters in ways that signpost their danger and allow a party to either face them with an advantage or avoid them altogether. You will need a copy of the Gardens of Ynn to reference for the rules of the monsters and location details.

This generator can be used to make adventure locations within the Gardens, but with slight adjustment can also create Ynn-themed locations in the prime world.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Review: Bone Orchard Gospel

 (Full disclosure: I know this game's author. This is not an objective review. I am positively disposed to both F. Killian and Stone Dark Bruceman Games)

art by F. Killian on instagram.

Bone Orchard Gospel is a roleplaying game set in another world's Old West, on a continent settled by colonists who believe the lands they came from have been destroyed by their god. It is a horror game, in the sense that there is fear and woe, but not in the sense that players should expect werewolves or pod people.

The book is around 100 pages, written and illustrated by indie creator F. Killian. In setting out a world and a system, Killian keeps a utilitarian style, trusting to the content and the art to communicate the mood. These pieces do create a singular effect, though some will no doubt find them jarring. While the interior is well-printed, my copy's cover had notable pixelation. While this is no worse than some spot art in my copy of Gardens of Ynn, it is something I hope would be fixed in later printings. 

The book is well laid-out, and I found it easy to reference during play. However, while the book is available in PDF, I find that format worse than usual for this book. The text, while ordered properly and with effective header placement, feels like a long bloc when viewed on a laptop screen. After a few pages of foreword, Killian offers about 20 pages of background on the land of Ludt. Much of this is an overview of the two religious sects that define the canonical enmities of Ludt, Jasperism and Miterism. The minutiae of these faiths, and of demography, society, and mores are not covered. Instead, the Judge (GM) is told to run Ludt in the way they see fit. Instead of reading an in-depth restatement of the American West, you are told that Jasperites have patron saints of inquisition, mercy, and colonialism.

The Rules (Troopers, Vaqueros, and City Men)

art by F. Killian on instagram

The rules for character creation and play are shorter than even this brisk overview of the world. In addition to a concept (such as "train robber" or "town doctor") PCs spread points among four features: Gumption, Civilization, Grit, and Learnin'. To test their ability, they roll a number of d6s equal to twice their feature and try to get multiples of the same number. So if you're trying to, say, gun down a rival pistolero, that might be a "match 4" check. You would roll twice your Grit score and try to get four of a kind on the roll.

This turns out to be really hard, so when you really need to succeed you can "copper a feature," rolling extra dice at the risk of getting an equivalent penalty should you fail. In running the game I learned that coppering frequently can be essential to player success, which also means that there is constant risk of shattering a character's confidence when they fail.

Each weapon has its own damage table. This is the most amusing part of the book, where dreadfully lethal armaments are graced by illustrations of violence and distress. Whenever you roll on these tables, you always have at least a one-in-six chance of dying outright.

It is around here that we are greeted with this instruction:

In respecting that, I will simply say that there are three one-shots which can be played in series, as well as a short story set in Ludt. I ran the first one and it is excellent. All three contain elements of horror in the form of terrible consequences which, while the party may avert them, are on track to come down hard without being telegraphed obviously. In play as I narrated the epilogue of the one-shot (or "Yarn"), the players grew quiet and serious. It was heavy. It weighed on them. And I knew that while I hadn't expected them to avoid the final consequence of the adventure, it was something totally possible. This final effect was something I have not achieved in many games, and in my mind excuses the minor oddities you find in any indie product.

The short fiction piece, "A City Man", is excellent, but beyond this review's scope. I will say I like full-on fiction at the end, as in Bone Orchard Gospel, rather than in the front, as in what I've read of Vampire the Masquerade.

Final Considerations

Bone Orchard Gospel is not an OSR game, but it features a some of the best features of that movement. Character creation is smooth, gameplay simple. Combat is deadly and smart play is rewarded. The example yarns prove good examples for how to tell horror stories in a roleplay setting, where failure and misery is the river of the world.

I would recommend this game to people entranced by the art, those looking for unique and simple resolution mechanics, folks who want a good game for one-shots, and fans of Dark Tower, True Grit, or Dogs in the Vineyard.

I would not recommend this game to those looking to run a long campaign or pulpy adventure, to people who would only be interested in the PDF, to those who don't want to own games which mention horrible themes, or to people who own fewer than eight d6s.

Bone Orchard Gospel can be purchased on DriveThruRPG. Currently, only the PDF is available through tat seller, but the paper copy is available elsewhere for around $15.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Miscellany of Myth

 Dan of Throne of Salt fame periodically publishes excerpts from his slush pile, tidbits of inspirations and lore for games. These are some of the most useful blogposts for my own creativity, so I thought I would try to ape the style, even at risk of falling short of the quality.

  1. A green dragon stokes war in order to sell chlorine gas (a byproduct of its breath) to both sides.
  2. The silent Candy Sirens are said to have an irresistible allure which can only be broken by tricking them into opening their mouths, revealing their rotting, rancid teeth.
  3. A Call of Cthulhu character's backstory: finding the names of eldritch texts in an Appendix N and going down the rabbit hole.
  4. Two goblins sharing a cigarette and sitting around.
  5. Mine Rowdy- a class
  6. The Hellcrawl has a long table of random encounters, with a numerical bonus to the roll equal to how settled the area is. Some wilderness encounters add features that permanently lodge in that hex, like a farmstead or gold claim. These increase the settlement score of nearby areas.
  7. a horse with salmon scales, slimy white slugs hiding in scarlet robes, blue molds that eat and replace ligaments, an ape shaped like an octopus, fuzzy insects whose touch cause swelling and who hibernate in darkness.
  8. A fruit tree that magically calls dying creatures to it to fertilize the soil.
  9. One culture teaches spiders to weave clothing by getting them to wrap wicker models. Thereby, the society gets spiderweb fabric armor
  10. A gunsmith who heats metal with a bronze bull forge
  11. Dogheaded men come to the old retired archeologist in town. No one knows why
  12. Battering rams are required to be kept in all homes that share a block with the temple in case the doors are barricaded.
  13. A small tent securely staked; it just barely conceals a terribly deep hole.
  14. It is holy to kill while sleeping. Some say that all sleepwalkers are of the same faith, regardless of their waking professions.
  15. Front half rhinoceros, back half deer with sliding orb hooves.
  16. A batskin lens that reveals transmutations and illusions.
  17. Everything a wizard owns is cursed after they die.
  18. A titan defended Earth from the moon until it was banished to hide under Saturn's aegis, taking with it those few acolytes who had not betrayed it. Some now wish to absolve it and allow its return, in order to put an end to envy, lycanthropy, dementia, libertinity, and/or menstrual pains.
  19. a sunken ship full of sarcophagi
  20. the taram, an instrument with strings running between at least three "branches" of a stick. Said to have originally been made from antlers.
  21. A book on Numerology deflects from accusations by claiming "for every charlatan there are a hundred dedicated numerologists." What if instead of a demographic claim this was a military organizational prescription?
  22. In early D&D, "ogre magi" is a language all its own. What other racial-classial languages are there? 
  23. Dragonflies are so named because they too keep hordes
  24. "Virus, virus, leaping light/ blooming buds of subtle blight/ What immortal voice or hand/ could birth you with a cold command?"
  25. Frogs with turtle shells
  26. "An evil sought/ is evil bought"
  27. "The fey arrayed in ciclatoun"
  28. A type of thread visible only to fools.
  29. An 18th-century Quaker mystic has three coffins in a mausoleum. The first is gold and has the inscription "to keep the wolf from the door." Opening it releases poison gas. The second is silver and says "to keep the fox hungry." It leads to his sanctum. This is, to him, a perfectly sensible reference both to an early founder of Quakerism and a desire to live an ascetic, uncomfortable lifestyle. The third coffin is made of iron and is inscribed "To keep the oath to the hound." Opening this coffin startles an omen of bats, and leads down into a cave.
  30. Leopards are just shadows of other large cats, just as ninja are simply shadows of men.
  31. A leper's scale, suckling at the breast of creation, became the first dragon.
  32. "She wove snakes into her hair, and spat venom."
  33. Worshipers of a liberator-god. They keep slaves who worship the same god.
  34. A god whose holy symbol is "anything hot enough to sear flesh"
  35. Police officers wearing neon vests with no-smoking signs.
  36. You purchase tickets to shows by the act, and get radically different impressions of the same story based on which acts you buy into.
  37. The lord of a distant city that was once ravaged by necromancy writes polite letters of protests whenever they hear you have cast such a spell.
  38. The opulent Xanadu of Citizen Kane, but its owner was the Biblical Cain.
  39. Excerpts from a “missing” Dr. Seuss book that proves horrifying.
  40. A dream: In a city of stone and gaslight, the Spider-Man temporarily loses most of his powers and now is merely a very good climber. At one point, he proceeds through the winding sewers, which are medieval and catacomb-like, to his workshop, where he weaves his costume out of his own spider silk. However, a criminal has found the workshop and broken a window so Parker can see something askew, turn, and be surprised to find him.
  41. An adventure set during the coexistence of Neanderthal with contemporary humans.
  42. A spell to cover the target in chitinous armor, protective but heavy and slow.
  43. a spell- Diet of Worms, through which you devour worms that clump about you in the morning to spit them onto your foes later in the day.
  44. First level spell- summon the Devil
  45. Cloudstuff, collected and concentrated, makes for amazing fabric. It is light, good in water, and shines in dim light.
  46. A near-future Risk-like game set on the African continent, with a secret agenda to teach players about the basics of African geography.
  47. Veterans of war all have a language in common.
  48. an ancient coliseum with amazing and otherwise extinct clades of plants growing in its lowest tunnels. These plants are the most valued of treasure, guarded by the descendants of the beasts and gladiators who fought for the amusement of crowds.
  49. A PC's motivation: they fought on the wrong side of a war and can never return home unless they buy amnesty for a terrible sum.
  50. A Call of Cthulhu adventure set just before the death of Koresh Teed in the Koreshan Unity.
  51. Mission: slipping the royal foodtaster a ring of poison immunity.
  52. One-shot: the meeting of Soviet and American astronauts in the International Space Station is interrupted by some terrible horror.
  53. 40% of the human population are aging, jaded veteran clones.
  54. Bahl’s Menacing Mantras: A book of dread lore in an ancient language that, when translated, gives a permanent +2 to intelligence, but when crafting a scheme or plot the user has an INT% chance to introduce unnecessary convolutions.
  55. A Litany for Forgiving Strangers: "All people are flawed/' We will be hurt by the flaws of others./ They would be elsewhere, had they the strength./ All people are flawed."

d20 Cyberpunk Gun Convolutions (every gun has at least one)
  1. Needs wi-fi connection
  2. Needs constant app update on your dataslate
  3. Planned obsolescence
  4. Very fragile
  5. You license it monthly
  6. Micro-transactions
  7. Trial period scumming
  8. Weird novelty features like an 8x prestige COD player’s weapon of choice
  9. Requires cybernetics for some function
  10. Remote controlled
  11. Obtrusively obvious abilities
  12. Needs to cool down all the time
  13. Genetically tied to someone else
  14. Trigger made for complex trigger bot
  15. Covered in inconvenient blades
  16. Fancy minimalist design that makes it impossible to figure out
  17. BIG
  18. Throws out upbeat phrases in an obscure language
  19. Safety sensor prevents it from targeting humans.
  20. Only fires 9 AM to 5 PM

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Considerations on Fantasy Folk, Part 1

D&D tends to minimize the differences between core playable races. In D&D 5e, they usually give you small bonuses to primary attributes, small perks, and maybe a racial language. In 3.5 and Pathfinder, they are similar, giving abilities you can choose from to improve your Character Build.

In earlier editions, non-humans were restricted in what classes they could be, or were a class in and of themselves, but this seldom resulted in fundamental changes to how a character solved problems. If the elf class is simply a wizard with a bow and armor, they are effectively humans with slightly fewer game-rule restrictions.

For the folk of Vain the Sword, I have gone in the opposite direction. Differing species have bodies and minds that lead to very different lived experiences and concerns. The way these concerns affect adventurers emerge through play, but I find it worth considering how communities with different ideas about necessities and abilities might function, in ways that can be reflected at the table. 

In this project, I cannot give considerations on every folk. For instance, talking animals and golems are so varied as to be impossible to consider in their totality. In this first installation, I will be focusing on eulogy, orcs, and serset, since those folk are more common in my current weekly game.

Eulogy (snake-like creatures with no legs. Cold-blooded. Flexible)
  • Buildings typically lack stairs or ladders, preferring poles instead.
  • In poorer settlements, families may pair off and live in one house during winter to cut down on firewood consumption.
  • "The duke's son, who was unfortunately born with legs, had special ramps constructed between his main quarters and the courtyard to help with his disability."
  • A fortress hallway with small alcoves behind hidden panels in random hallways, built to hide coiled eulogy to ambush invaders.
  • Square beds to facilitate coiling.
  • "The ambassador rushed to his room but saw that no one was in it. Suddenly, hissing laughter floated down and he gazed up at the thin rafters to see the assassin--"
  • Some meals are offered without utensils, for it is only good manners to swallow them whole.
  • Proud parents save the first shedded skin of their children to mix into potions of good fortune.
  • The first function of a nursery is to make the mother comfortable for the months spent keeping laid eggs warm.
  • Eulogy shackles take the form of a long stick with straps running down it, the prisoner pulled taut and held in place.
  • "It is ludicrous that my brother was chosen as heir when I am his clutchmate, and have twice the learning and wit that he does!"
  • Miners favor picks, mattocks, and hand-shovels, never something that assumes you can step down on it.
  • A slithering eulogy does not need snow shoes, since they can slither. However, to do so is considered dangerous.
  • Adventurers can easily use their trusty 10-foot pole as a ladder.
  • Nobility often have winter homes in warmer climes or near hot springs.
  • Some warriors favor long shields to cover their lower half, since metal armor is not usually practical.
  • Travelers commonly carry black, heat-retaining stones in netting during the day, relying on them in the early part of night.
  • Passageways can be much smaller when it is assumed that those using them will not be carrying much.
  • Thrust-focused weapons are considered weaker.
  • Among minor nobility, non-eulogy guests may be presented with light ladders to aid in navigating the household. Higher nobles may even have sections of their homes built for non-eulogy, or staircases built in out-of-the-way locations for the clumsier races.

Orc (can see in darkness and firelight, but not sunlight.)
  • It is not uncommon to see an orc walking with a lit torch by daylight. (Yes, this is how this works.)
  • Homes lack shutterless windows.
  • Settlements often have permanent wooden awnings or cliff overhangs between major locations.
  • Hunters encounter nocturnal prey more frequently than other folk do.
  • Travelers seldom camp by the road when they can retreat to the shade of trees.
  • Someone forced to travel by day without any fire, will walk facing their own shadow.
  • In diverse settlements, bells and barkers are replaced with silent alternatives, such as chimes made of colorful fabric.
  • Some adventuring parties and military units which are not primarily made up of orcs may assign one as a "night-captain," with the role of directing marches through darkness.

Serset (parasites who control the bodies of those they infest. Live in lakes when without a host. Three-member reproduction that results in the death of participants. Gender based heavily on host-imprinting.)

  • All societies are dependent on the proximity of other kinds of folk. There is near-universal emphasis on learning the tongues and customs of neighbors.
  • "Lawful" serset pools are known to harshly punish blatant seizure of host bodies, to avoid the reputation of being, as a race, raiders and slavers.
  • Depriving someone of a host once they have already inhabited one is to demand a deep sacrifice, on the level of asking a high noble to give up their birthright.
  • Pools will always have a complex of buildings beside them to service controllers guarding the community from interlopers or predators. Smallers pools will even have fences.
  • In climates with freezing weather, serset will stick together at the bottom of pools or stay in warm barrels for the duration of inclement conditions.
  • Everyone has over a hundred siblings. Incest is not taboo.
  • "Dungeon" complexes never have lethal traps.

Some of my Favorite GLOG Classes

 Ancalagon of Of Slugs and Silver listed some of their favorite GLOG classes by other people, and asked for others to join in. Continuing this spirit of kudos and unearthing old treasures, I present some of my favorites.

  • Lexi's Psion. I run a modified version of this for Vain the Sword's cleric-type, and it's always a BLAST.
  • Ancalagon's Alchemist, which is more like an initiation into medieval alchemy, with interesting resource management mingling in marvelous powers.
  • Vayra's Oiled Paladin. So many abilities, and all of them make you want to play the character. Not just the class, but the person in that role.
  • Deus Ex Parabola's Mighty Man. A class that fills a perhaps too-small niche, but that knows what it is and oozes goodness goo.
  • Gorinich's Mysterious Dagger. Abraham Lincoln once asked "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my unwilling host-wielder?" and he was right.
  • ArnoldK's Baboonist. Eminently usable while feeling utterly strange. 
  • Xenophon's Bender. A straightforward adaption of the elemental martial artists from Avatar.
  • Oblidisideryptch's Veteran. A fighter that is affecting to read.
Please consider joining in! Post other folks's GLOG classes, and say a bit about why you like them. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Generating Dungeons With Threads

Standard dungeon generation style(?): create a certain number of empty rooms, guarded rooms, treasures, and oddities. Arrange them with interesting connections. Come up with a random encounter table.

In theory, this starts with the creation of individual chambers. maybe brainstorming gives you a subtheme to splash through part of the space. And it seems to work fine, but what if we generated dungeons by threads, sets of three or more chambers connected by some theme or information. Separate the dungeon (or the level, if very large) into early, middle, and late sections, according to expected order of visitation by a party. Have early rooms establish some fact, middle rooms continue and make plain the pattern, and late rooms pay them off.

This is simply the concept of foreshadowing and checkov's gun applied to a game in which you don't have a guaranteed order of events.

Example: early in the dungeon the party encounters an obvious or broken trap. In the middle section they come upon a trap of identical mechanism, but that stands a real chance to debilitate them because it is neither hidden nor broken. Finally, late in the dungeon they come upon another identical trap, but this one threatens to kill, not debilitate.

Note that nothing is ruined if the party skips one section or encounters it out of order. It all makes just as much sense, but rewards thorough exploration. In some cases, experiencing them out of order may be advantageous

Another example: early in the dungeon, a pair of goblins stand guard. In the middle section, a large, empty goblin barracks is discovered. Late in the dungeon, the party comes upon the dungeonlord's elite goblin patrols. So with the intended thread followed in the assumed order, the party learns of the existence of goblins in the dungeon, then learns how they live and presumably how many there might be, then encounters a challenge in the form of goblins.

Importantly, these threads can have any combination of room types. "obstacle-encounter-encounter with treasure" is just as valid as "empty-empty-empty." Consider this final example:

Early on, the party walks through a hallway with carvings of crayfish on the walls. In the middle section, they find a riverbed that serves as an alternative exit. Late in the dungeon, they come up a section rotted by years of flooding, with uncertain flooring and hazardous spores.

Consider the following generator. It offers only basic prompts to help remind you of your own dungeon checklist. And it's not the kind of thing you can improvise on the table. But I hope it may provide a structure to guide and reinforce your better instincts when making a dungeon.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Ten Treasures that Offer Advancement

In the vein of Advancement that isn't leveling up, here are some items which are designed to feature as treasure in a standard dungeon, fortification, settlement, or company. Common to each of them is a way for an interested PC to develop in ways they may not have initially anticipated. Often this involves a quest or quest hook of some kind. Ideally you can tailor this to lead into the dungeons or regions you wanted to set your story in anyway.

  1. The Hand of Ransem, a stone hand covered in a thin black glove. This hand contains 3 MD that can be used to cast the spells silence, teleport through shadows, and mutually charm spooky creatures. Both the wearer and the Hand (which is intelligent) can be cast these spells at will. The Hand will attempt to use these powers to get the character in touch with members of the thief anti-nobility and (using its knowledge of rogue-sign and its own dread reputation) set them on the path to recover three other artifacts from its original master: the Eye of Ransem, the Cup of Ransem, and the Stone of Flenilla.
  2. The Staff of Swords, a thin staff of mopane wood with an insert at the top to fit a candle. Whenever the owner defeats a true warrior, write down that warrior's name. The owner gets +2 to a d20 roll to emulate that warrior each day, and may elect to get this bonus after learning the result of the roll. You can only get this bonus once per warrior per day.
  3. Calling Song for Comets, a scroll describing how to call falling stars down to your location. This is explicitly dangerous, and the author recommends you ensure you are perfumed with incense and free of sin.
    1. a giant lump of iron falls to the ground, leveling everything within a mile, sparing only its worshipers and those with a notable magnetic field around them.
    2. a floating island is pulled to the ground; it is covered in ancient ruins. Grab a medium-sized dungeon from your binder.
    3. a lichjammer is pulled to the ground; a confused lich, flesh golem, and skull serpent look around confused.
    4. the angel Perturabiel comes to you. He has little patience for those less pure than a saint, but seeks to do good.
    5. a liquid rock the size of your fist floats down to greet you. It is as intelligent as a Very Good Dog and has the personality of a loyal goose.
    6. a UFO lands nearby. The author of this scroll and all their friends wave from the window.
  4. St. Julaman's Maul, a mace with seven empty facets running along the handle. Anyone holding it can detect if someone is remarkably guilty of one of seven sins. Killing such a person with the Maul sets a new gem in one of the facets and gives a new power. Once you've killed seven such people, the facets empty again, you can use the powers without holding the mace, and you become a Saint yourself, whatever that means in your setting.
    1. Wrath - ruby - Give off fiery light. Deal +1d4 damage.
    2. Sloth - amber - enter a trance for a set period, during which nothing can harm you.
    3. Gluttony - turquoise - Eat a second lunch a day to heal 1d6+level HP.
    4. Greed - jade - track anyone who has something you gave them, or something that comes from a hoard you inspect.
    5. Envy - emerald - become unrecognizable at will.
    6. Pride - opal - Anyone who listens to you is immune to the sunken cost fallacy, even when considering their own life direction.
    7. Lust - amethyst - if charmed or enchanted, ignore the effect every other round.
  5. The Dream of Age, a book describing a saga in which a major character summons their own infant self from the past and gives it up to a "Wild Lord," Canyieron. The ritual to summon your past self and to summon the Wild Lord are both described, and if you follow in the character's footsteps you immediately gain a template of an appropriate class and cannot advance in any other until your service ends. Bonus points if the last level of that class kills you.
  6. Calumna's Cup, a silver hobgoblet. When two people drink from this cup, they switch bodies and the cup is teleported Somewhere Else. This effect is permanent unless they both drink from the cup again or are both are present for a remove curse spell.
  7. Gigre of the Moral Frame, a recipe for a drug which is said to be able to remove unfavorable aspects of a personality, guiding them either to evil or good. If you create the gigre according to the recipe, roll a d4, with a penalty of 1 if you are unfamiliar with drugs and alchemy and a bonus of 1 if you are fully trained.
    1. Exact opposite of intended alignment or personality change.
    2. Entire person splits into two mostly identical people with exact opposite personalities. They are natural enemies but will not try to kill each other until all other options have been exhausted.
    3. Personality splits into two, trading off control of the same body, Jekyll and Hyde Style.
    4. Intended alignment or personality change.
  8. Hadriana's True Process for Creating a Chemic Man, a set of fourteen stone tablets describing how to create a form of homunculus. It requires flesh from a creature it is shaped to resemble, which confers its templates and/or HD. It requires a three-word set of values to be scratched into its skull with a diamond-tip. It requires the sacrifice of a loving relationship. Other than these, the ingredients are not expensive. You can create powerful followers by these means.
  9. The Elixir of Zoë, a potion said to be brewed by the daughter of King Midas. By swallowing a rose petal soaked in this elixir, you become immune to harmful transformations. This also makes the gold-themed tomb of Midas a cakewalk. Unfortunately, it also makes you the eternal enemy of the reaper king Lityerses.
  10. Hurward's Brew, a recipe for a simple but tasty beer. Spend a month of downtime brewing and for the next month of adventuring you roll with advantage when recovering hit points from taking lunch.

Friday, September 4, 2020

A Language Proposal: Lawful Evil

Since alignment languages are beloved-- so common as to be seen at every gaming table-- it is shocking that no one has tried to outline fully what such a language would look like. While I am no expert in linguistics, I do have some interest in conlanging, so here I will write brainstorm a proposal for the Lawful Evil language.
My hope is to codify Lawful Evil into a way of speaking and writing, even if there is no vocabulary except for a traumatized English. Please, reach out with any and all ideas, no matter now small!


  • Generally, I want to start by focusing on the grammar and structure. Vocabulary is easy to fill once the inventory is in place.
  • I don't want to use a complicated orthography, simply for my own convenience.
  • I want this language to be both Lawful and Evil, whatever that means, but I don't want to actually do harm in this project. I may end up censoring or circumscribing parts of the language for the sake of good taste.
  • While we may imagine a language born of Hell being fiendishly complicated, I will probably take it in a direction that keeps it simple to understand, given that fluency should be as easy as possible.
  • In principle I guess this seeks to be a natural-seeming language, but in practice I lack the dedication to fill it with enough idiosyncrasies to be convincing.
  • I want to make a system of speaking so unlikable that good characters in settings that feature it will not want to use it.

"If only there was a word that meant 'good interloper.'" -Welcome to Night Vale, Episode 55

Phonetics and Phonology
  • We could go down the cliche path of using lots of hard sounds and apostrophes, but that was always boring. The majority of sounds will probably be in common with English (the language of imperialism), but I like the idea of a few curveballs.
  • This could be a click language. Those always seem really strange even though there's nothing inherently odd about them.
  • This language could require full use of your voice, face, and hands to make it maximally inaccessible.
  • I don't know. It's hard to make sounds evil or lawful.
Stress and Tone
  • There should be some kind of regular rule for where stress falls.
  • Perhaps there could be an optional use of tonality that can radically change meaning. The primary use of this would be to subtly trick mortals into agreeing to the exact opposite of what they wanted.

"When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer." -George Orwell

  • Naturally, everything should be gendered. One gender should be given most of the positive terms and another most of the negative terms. That's pretty evil, right?
  • This includes pronouns. A different "you" for each gender that the language wishes to acknowledge.
  • Honorifics and Dishonorifics: Person nouns and group nouns (including groups like ethnic groups and sexualities) generally should have a denigrating aspect. Specifically, are they lower than you or are you lower than them? There should be some simple, mandatory way to say that someone is either puny or superior.
  • There is a suffix popular on 4chan that is equivalent to "-er" or "-ist." The innovation of that community is that the suffix is just a homophobic slur, such that anyone who participates in 4chan slang is all but obliged to steep themselves in unkindness. This is a great example we can emulate!
  • Words for high status positions are heavily positive, as with the English word "noble." Lower class things are inherently bad, as in "vulgarity, baseness, crudity."
  • There should be robust methods of shortening and compounding words so you don't have to think hard about them when you say them, as in "Nazi" or "Comintern" or "Ingsoc."
  • Robust insults: There should be ways to easily denigrate based on someone being bad at something ("poet-aster"), being bad for being too much of something ("poet-ard") or being a sucker for doing something ("poet-cuck").
  • I should be as hard as possible to say that people do something together. Rather, the subject imposes it on the object. If you want to say "We worked on the project" in Lawful Evil, it should either come out as "I made him work on my project" or "She had me join her project."
  • Who needs them? We want to essentialize everything. This means minimizing verbs and especially nouns.
  • Not a lot of thoughts, but we gotta keep intransitive case to ensure taking responsibility can be avoided.
  • There are no requests-- just commands and questions.

"Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken." -the Sith Code

Word Concepts
  • There should be no concept of personhood.
  • There should be no word for please or thanks, but plenty of real-world languages do that. How do we take it further? Maybe the closest equivalent to please is means "I grovel." Maybe when you do someone a favor, you say "I have your gratitude" and they say "You allow me," to be maximally presumptuous.
  • "Compromise" will be retained only in the sense of lacking integrity.
  • "Liberty" will be retained only as the power to do something.
  • "free" will be retained only as a lack of something.
  • There is no way to distinguish what is from what ought to be.
  • There should definitely be different styles of speech based on ceremony and hierarchical circumstance.
  • Like the honest men of old Virginia, condescension is considered the polite way for superiors to speak to their inferiors.
  • Various dialects exist; all but one are violently suppressed.
  • Idioms are eggcorned and mondegreened to become inscrutable.

"Evil begins when you treat people as things." -Terry Pratchett